On September 5, 1982, the Sunday edition of Des Moines Register came out with the front headlines teasing readers about video recorders, the trend of watching TV, the USDA, and something about China-Soviet relations.

In other words, it was all routine. No one knew that one of Iowa’s most important stories was about to unfold the same morning; the disappearance of a paperboy named Johnny Gosch.

While taking his usual paper route, the 12-year-old boy – who at that time was on the job for about a year – vanished without a trace.

It was believed the incident occurred between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. It was the last time anybody saw him alive.

Fast forward to 2022, forty years after the sad day, the police are still baffled. Without any solid evidence and eyewitness accounts, the disappearance of Johnny Gosch went quickly to the cold cases cabinet.

During those days, Gosch’s neighborhood was primarily considered a safe (implicitly white) place and immune to kidnapping and violent crimes.

Everybody was terrified, but that alone didn’t help solve the shocking case.


10 /10 Perfect Service Award

According to Noreen Gosch, his mother, Johnny, never delivered the paper late. He even had a perfect service award for being on time all time. He set out that day at 5:45 a.m. with his dachshund.

About two hours later, one of his customers phoned home to ask why the paper had not arrived. His father, Leonard Gosch, quickly told Noreen to call the police and went looking for Johnny.

Leonard found his son’s wagon still full of newspapers two blocks away from their Des Moines home. Leonard then delivered them to the customers.


9 /10 Ford Fairmont

The dog came home, but the boy did not. Initial investigations discovered that some witnesses had seen the boy talking to a man in a blue Ford Fairmont.

According to their accounts, the boy appeared to be giving directions to the man. The car then made a U-turn, and the man again asked another newspaper boy for more tips.

Noreen also hired a private investigator to work on the case. The PI’s most notable finding was a testimony from a witness who claimed to have seen Johnny being dragged into a car.


8 /10 No Suspect

Noreen and her investigators believed Johnny was kidnapped and forced into a sex trafficking scheme. In contrast, the authorities said they had no evidence to support the assertion.

As the investigation continued, there were multiple persons of interest, but the police could not name a suspect and could not link somebody directly to the incident.

There isn’t any solid proof to corroborate all the suspicions, and there has not been a significant arrest to this day.


7 /10 Landmark Case

The disappearance of Johnny Gosch remains a mystery four decades later. It became a landmark event that would bring a sweeping change to how law enforcement and the media handle cases of a missing persons.

Johnny was among the first missing kids printed on milk cartons. Following another disappearance of a delivery boy, Eugene Martin, newspapers decided to use adult carriers nearly two years later.

The police still cannot determine whether the two cases are connected. Wild speculations are the only things to surface across the web.


6 /10 A Visit in 1997

Conspiracy theories abound, including one from Noreen herself. She claimed to have seen her son again in 1997.

According to her story, Johnny went home accompanied by an unidentified man. Noreen recognized her son, despite not seeing him for about 15 years because he lifted his shirt to reveal the birthmark on his chest.

The story became even more bizarre when she said they spoke for more than an hour during the unexpected encounter. Johnny told her mother that he had been put into a pedophile ring.

Public Domain

5 /10 Unproven Theory

Assuming the visit and face-to-face conversation ever took place, it is difficult to grasp the idea that Noreen did not forcefully rescue her son.

In November 2006, she also reported having discovered some photographs of three boys being gagged at her front door. Noreen said one of the boys was 12-year-old, Johnny.

However, the image was not clear enough to make an identification. Her husband Leonard was unwilling to corroborate any of those accounts, and he did not believe Johnny ever came home, let alone spoke with Noreen.


4 /10 Why Johnny Can't Come Home

A few years after the alleged visit, Noreen released her book Why Johnny Can’t Come home.

In addition to telling stories about Johnny, the book criticized the authorities for their inadequate actions in the wake of her son’s disappearance. She said the police waited for 45 minutes before taking the report seriously.

It was initially treated as a runaway case even when they eventually did. At that time, they could not classify the disappearance as a missing person case until 72 hours.

3 /10 Bullhorn

According to Noreen, among all the mistakes the police made during the early investigation phase was how police chief Orval Cooney took a bullhorn, went to the park, and told everybody to stop searching.

He quickly (almost too easily) assumed that Johnny was a runaway.

Former Police Captain of the West Des Moines Police Department Cameron Coppess said the police once investigated a person who testified to being involved in the kidnapping, but the lead was a dead end.

2 /10 More Accounts

In 2018, some new accounts surfaced through Faded Out, a podcast focusing on missing persons cold cases.

Some people claimed to have come from the same area as Johnny Gosch contacted the podcast and shared information about what they thought of the case.

Few of those people used to be newspaper boys, and they said there were local individuals in the neighborhood who tried to lure them into the trap of sex trafficking.

Those individuals were later arrested and imprisoned. Still, details and corroborations are scarce at best.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

1 /10 An Open Case

Orval Cooney is deceased, and Cameron Coppess cannot verify whether the bullhorn incident occurred.

If one pushed for a silver lining, it was that Johnny’s disappearance taught law enforcement all across the country a lot about how to handle a missing person case.

Johnny Gosch is still officially a missing person, and the issue remains open.

Be that as it may, new leads are hard to come by. Local police receive only about five tips annually, and not all of them are worth taking a closer look at. 

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